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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Laissez Les Bon Temp What?

By Carolyn Nicholson

When our family moved to Louisiana from Alabama 31 years ago, we had never experienced Mardi Gras before. We had heard of the parades and decadence in New Orleans. We were aware Mobile celebrated the oldest Mardi Gras in the country, but we’d never gone down for that Alabama carnival either.
            We moved to Lafayette at the end of February and started settling into our unique new community. The best way to get a feel for a new place is to read the local newspaper so we made sure to get a copy of the Daily Advertiser the next day. That issue included a special Mardi Gras insert for newcomers. It told of the history of Mardi Gras, listed the krewes, dates and times for parades, and even a crash course in some of the most common Cajun French expressions. One Mardi Gras custom that stood out for me, though, was one I’d never heard of before – Courir de Mardi Gras.
            As I read, I discovered the details of this rural Mardi Gras custom and grew more anxious with every word. The article told of how masked, costumed riders on horseback rode through the countryside, from farm to farm, drinking, dancing, chasing chickens, and begging for all the ingredients for that evening’s gumbo.
            Keep in mind that we had only been living in Louisiana for a couple of days. I was really getting worried! I had no idea where Mamou, Church Point, and the other small towns mentioned were. Galen was at work, and I was at home with two small children. What was I going to do if these drunken, masked men rode up to my townhouse, demanding a chicken or some rice? Would they accept a package of frozen chicken or a box of Minute Rice? What would they do if I just didn’t answer the door?
            Needless to say, I made it through the day unmolested. I soon found out that my fears were unfounded and we grew to love all the distinctive customs of our local pre-Lenten celebration. But I always warn newcomers to the area to have a live chicken ready, just in case!